New Haven-based trio Lea was churning through one of its songs when singer and guitarist James Fonicello stopped playing. “I broke a string!” he said. He turned to the crowd at Cafe Nine. “When Straight to VHS” — the band that had just finished playing — “broke a string, I said to my drummer, ‘That is going to happen to us.’ And it did!”
Two broken strings from two different bands couldn’t stop the music at the latest installment of Manic Mondays, a weekly series that features three bands doing shorter sets than usual at the Crown Street club on Monday nights and only seems to have grown more popular over time.
The New London-based Straight to VHS started off the night with a set of original garage-rock tunes that kept good pop songwriting firmly in its sights, marrying raw guitars with singing that at times could be downright pretty. The trio — Jon Young on guitar and lead vocals, Jay Silva on drums, and Tim Donnel on bass — lent all three of their voices to some songs, and featured an instrument change halfway through the set, with Silva taking on the bass and Donnel seating himself behind the drums.
The rhythm section smiled almost the entire time, even when Young snapped a string. Silva and Donnel kept playing, vamping as Young swiftly got to swapping the remnants of the old string for a new one. Donnel, on drums at the time, seemed to realize that the guitarless garage band suddenly sounded a little bit like a lounge act, and leaned into it.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m going to tell you a little secret,” he said. “This is Jay Silva on the bass. Jay, I think you’re doing a great job. Keep it up, brother.”
Young finished swapping out his string, tuned it, and dropped into the song right where he left off. The three band members ended the song singing together, classic pop doot-doot-doots sung in three-part falsetto harmonies. By the time they finished, the crowd had doubled.
“We’re auditioning roadies, if you guys are interested,” Silva said, to laughs. “We have leftover pizza in the car. There are a lot of amenities.” The audience ate it up.
Lea, the next band on the bill, continued with both the tight musicality and the banter. “So, we’re from Massachusetts,” Fonicello said by way of introduction.
“No, we’re not,” drummer Jacob Doherty interrupted.
“What are you drinking?” someone yelled.
“I’m drinking that joke that didn’t land,” Fonicello said, with a laugh. But others did, and so did the music, as the crowd got closer to the stage to bask in the squall from Fonicello’s guitar and sway to the big, sparse beat that Doherty and bassist Chris Salvatore could lay down in the music’s quieter moments. Lea came on like a sonic descendant of the Pixies, unleashing wailing distortion that could cut out in a second and let the band seethe — though never without losing a sly sense of humor.
It set the stage for Hammydown — Abbie Morin on guitar and vocals, backed up by Jacob Burnstein on drums — visiting New Haven from Northampton, Mass. Morin matched clever lyrics and catchy melodies to guitar parts that ranged from driving to intricate, all propelled forward by Burnstein’s steady rhythms. It was, at last, too much to resist; a few people got up to dance halfway through Hammydown’s set and didn’t stop until the end.
In between songs, the audience was treated to Morin’s confessional humor, genuine and funny. We learned, for example, that she had worked as a roadside Statue of Liberty for Liberty Taxes (“Liberty Taxes, baby!” someone shouted from the back of the room”) in addition to working as a cleaner, as a baker, and as a deliverer of pizzas.
“Sometimes the songs you write are written for a future you,” she explained near the end of her set. “Do you ever feel like you don’t know what a song means until years later, and you’re rage-eating a glazed donut in a New Jersey parking lot? Yeah, me too.”
The crowd cheered. And, following what has become something of a tradition at Manic Mondays at Cafe Nine, Marin paused to marvel at the number of people who had come out to have fun on a Monday night in New Haven.
“It’s Monday,” she said. “Don’t you guys have jobs?”
“No!” someone said.
“Fuck it,” someone else said.
“That’s what I like to hear,” Marin said.